Book Reviews

Book Review: The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1), by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1)

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1)

By: John Scalzi

Published: March 21, 2017

The Rundown: “Our universe is ruled by physics and faster-than-light travel is not possible—until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.  Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others.  It’s a hedge against interstellar war—and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.  The Flow is eternal—but it is not static.  Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity.  When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals—a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency—are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.”

Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: The cover depicts a shuttle approaching a space station.  Below the shuttle is the main body of the space station; above are several planets suspended against the backdrop of space.  And damn, the artwork is gorgeous.  Its beauty attracts the reader’s attention, while its content informs readers that the book is a space opera.  A+

What a Wonderful World: Following the paths of The Flow—a river-like warping of space-time that allows travel between worlds—humanity has colonized the galaxy.  No system can survive without the support of the others, a fact which is used by powerful merchant houses to create monopolies on certain goods.  Few are willing to admit that The Flow is collapsing, as that would disrupt their money-making schemes, though a few wily houses are attempting to profit from the impending collapse.  Can the Emperox of the Interdependency force these greedy, competitive factions to work together for the survival of humanity?

Yes, this book is an analogy for climate change.

The Good Guys: We got three.

Cardenia Wu-Patrick was never intended to be Emperox.  She’s just the last Emperox’s illegitimate offspring.  However, when his heir is killed in a suspicious racing accident, Cardenia is thrust into power.  Now she must maintain house Wu’s supremacy, fend off marriage proposals, and keep Parliament under control, all while trying to stave off the end of humanity.  I feel like Scalzi tries too hard to make Cardenia relatable by having her be unimpressed by her opulent surroundings.  If she hates wealth and power so much, why doesn’t she just abdicate and put a cousin in charge?

Kiva Lagos is the scion of a wealthy house.  She likes cursing, sex, and making money.  The latter is a problem, as the Duke of the distant planet End has seized all of her family’s assets there, and won’t let her sell her wares.  In order to keep her venture in the black, she’ll need to find another way to make back her money.  Kiva is a thoroughly likeable thug.

Marce Claremont is the son of a lord on End.  He is a physicist who assists his father in his research on the collapse of The Flow.  When the evidence the two obtain is incontrovertible, Lord Claremont sends Marce to the Emperox on Hub to report his findings.  Well, he tries to send him.  Leaving End isn’t easy, especially with that pesky rebellion.

The Bad Guys: The bad guys are the ambitious house Nohamapetan.  Three Nohamapetan siblings appear in the novel.

Nadashe is the future leader of the house.  She’s the brains of the family.  She was set to marry the heir to the title Emperox; unfortunately, he was assassinated.  Now she’s attempting to get her brother Amit to marry the new Emperox, Cardenia.

Amit is a bit of an idiot.  He does everything his sister tells him to.

Ghreni, the youngest sibling, is the most visible of the Nohamapetans in the novel.  He serves as an advisor to the Duke of End, helping him gain weapons and financing to fight the rebellion.  Ghreni is a smooth-talking con artist, manipulating everyone while keeping his own agenda hidden.  He’s a grasping sociopath, and we love him for it.

The Guy in the Good Guy’s Bed: Cardenia is under political pressure to marry Amit Nohamapetan, but she never intends to do so.  She consents to spend time with him, and acts as though she is considering his suit, however.  She also briefly considers marrying Nadashe instead, though there’s the small problem that she isn’t gay.

House Nohamapetan’s Secret Vintage: If you like byzantine political manipulations, you’ll love this book.  Though it’s not obvious what exactly he’s up to, it’s clear Ghreni is making some sort of power play on End.  Watching Kiva and Marce trying to evade him, while simultaneously trying to figure out what he’s up to, is a ton of fun.  When the reader finally gets an explanatory chapter told from Ghreni’s perspective, it does not disappoint.

Suspiciously Timed Fruit Blight: This book is very clearly setting up a series; a lot of dominoes are stood up, but only a few fall down.  For example, at the end of the book, the character we all know is behind everything is revealed to be behind everything, and the secret we learned on the back cover is finally made common knowledge.  What all the characters do with that knowledge, and how they attempt to solve the central problem, is left to later books.  Which… have not been published yet.

Does it Represent…

Women: A good chunk of the major and minor characters are women.  Marce’s sister is a badass ex-marine.  The Prophet, founder of the Interdependency, is a woman.  Cardenia has an assistant, who provides her with most of what she needs to know about the history of house Wu.  Random minor characters, such as guards and captains, are female.  Good all-around gender parity.

People of Color: The novel is set thousands of years in the future, and the physical characteristics of individual characters are not described, so who knows what any of these people’s races are.  Based on names, I pictured house Wu as Asian, house Lagos as Latinx, house Claremont as white, and house Nohamapetan as… er…. ambiguously brown.  In any case, the Interdependency seems to be a post-racial society, with loyalties based on noble houses rather than ethnic groups.

LGBT People: Kiva is established to be bisexual, but we only see her having relations with male characters.  Homosexuality is, in this universe, seen as not a big deal.  Unfortunately, no actual gay or transgender characters appear in The Collapsing Empire, so this is one of those books that pays lip service to equity while erasing LGBT people.

The Disabled: Nope.

Memorable Quote: “Despite the fact that he fully intended to be one of them, Marce managed to feel resentment toward them, towards the people who could, in fact, leave their problems behind through the simple application of money.”

Recommended for: People who like reading about political wheelers and dealers.  Though, it might be best to wait until the sequels are published before picking up the first novel in The Interdependency series.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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